February 16, 2004 (37th Parliament, 3rd Session)


Serge Marcil


Hon. Serge Marcil (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment, Lib.)

Madam Speaker, since I do not have much time, I will try to summarize my thoughts in order to make it clear that those of us on this side will be voting against this bill. It does, in fact, have no place whatsoever. It is as if the intention was to give the government the power to impose working conditions on one of the two parties.
This cannot be. In fact, I cannot even imagine a political party in this House proposing such a bill. I regret to say that I cannot see the progressives, the Progressive Conservatives, anywhere in this party.
What we see is the Alliance element, a party that is very much to the right, and now wants to impose working conditions on just about everything that moves in Canada.
What the hon. member across the way ought to know is that the Canada Labour Code contains a clause about going before an arbitrator at the request of both parties. Both parties must, however, accept conciliation after that mediation.
There are many tools to allow the two parties to reach agreement. The bottom line is that they can decide together, by mutual agreement, to call upon an arbitrator, who will then determine the working conditions.
Bill C-312 before us today would require amendment to the Canada Labour Code. The code would have to state that, after a certain number of days with no progress, the government would impose working conditions on one of the two parties. This is a totally unacceptable approach.
Arbitration does exist in certain areas. Take the National Hockey League for example. A system of arbitration has been agreed upon, negotiated by player representatives or the players' association, and representatives of the owners. It is part of their contracts.
There is a reason why this is in place, and why both parties have accepted it. It is because negotiations are taking place between one individual and a team. The individual is totally alone to defend his cause, so a clause has been included in the collective agreement to protect the individual. An average player, or a third string player, can therefore go before the arbitrator.
However, a big NHL star does not need arbitration because he draws crowds and the owners will give him what he wants. Look at Jagr, who is asking for $10 million a year. When his contract expires, he will have the upper hand in negotiations and the team's owner will give him what he wants.
Yet the average player or the third string player needs protection. That is why an agreement was signed between the player's association and the owner's association, which is part of the collective agreement.
In this case, nothing would be part of the collective agreement any more. If we accept it, this type of legislation would determine at which point negotiations would end or when the government would use legislation to impose working conditions on one of the parties.
It is hard to imagine that, in Canada—our country where we talk about freedom to negotiate, freedom to associate as workers in a union to defend workers' rights and working conditions, and where we have a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms—legislation could be introduced which would give the government the power to determine the working conditions in a company for the employees.
It is hard to imagine a political party in this House proposing something like that, but it happens. The former Alliance Party members may be hiding behind the name Conservatives, but they are not Progressive Conservatives. They want to give the government all the power to intervene.
Earlier, I listened to the member who is putting this bill forward. He said that, if the union wants $5 an hour and the company offers $1, at some point, they will have to meet somewhere in the middle. I do not know of any union in Canada that sets out to put a company out of business. I simply do not know of any.
A union, by definition, is made up of workers who get together, who elect an executive and give it the mandate to negotiate working conditions. They do not give a mandate to shut down the business. Therefore, there is no union that would make exaggerated demands that would eventually lead to the business shutting down.
In Canada, we have responsible unions and they have become business unions. So, when unions say to management that the company is making millions and hundreds of millions of dollars in profits and that the workers in other equivalent companies are earning 20 to 25% more than they are, and that the other companies are also making profits, obviously, in the next collective bargaining session, the workers will seek to negotiate financial advantages, and better working conditions, whether in pension plans or hourly wages.
The Canadian way of negotiation involves some give and take. The workers tell the employer that if the employer is making money, they will also negotiate for salary increases and better working conditions. If the employer is not making money, they will not ask for the moon. This is the attitude and the culture that have developed in Canada with respect to labour negotiations.
I was listening to my hon. colleague from the Bloc Quebecois who said that, in Quebec, they have a way of negotiating. It is true; they have a fine way of negotiating. Earlier, it was said that in Quebec they used back to work legislation. Still, there are two things to understand. In the private sector, the government does not intervene. The government may intervene in the public sector when services are involved, when people have no choice and no longer have access to public services. When the public has no access to health services, for instance, the government will say that that is enough and that since the parties are not able to agree, it will bring in back to work legislation. However, there are stages before that.
In Quebec, when public service unions decide to strike in order to negotiate, legislation requires that they implement and respect essential public services. Hospitals, CLSCs and schools cannot be closed just like that. The public must have access to essential services. When these services are not provided, then the government has the statutory right to intervene and say that, under the agreement, the other party must provide these essential services to the public, and since the latter is not respecting the legislation, the former will take statutory action to force workers back to work before bargaining can continue.
However, in the private sector, this legislation does not apply. There is a power relationship that absolutely must be established between the workers and the employer. That is the beauty of our system. Common sense will prevail during negotiations. Workers do not necessarily want to lose their jobs and the employer is not necessarily interested in shutting down. A middle ground will be found. There will be a conciliation officer and a mediator and, ultimately, there is a section in the Canada Labour Code under which the services of an arbitrator can be hired if the workers, the union and the employers all want one, while here, it is a statutory requirement. This is totally inappropriate. This means giving the government the legal power to intervene in private business and labour relations where it is has no business doing so.
We will vote against this bill because, currently, the Canada Labour Code provides all the tools needed to enable both parties to negotiate fairly and equitably. If they so desire, and give their consent, they have the power to appoint an arbitrator. On behalf of the Minister of Labour, we will be opposing this bill.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Final Offer Arbitration in Respect of West Coast Ports Operations Act
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